Rolling in Dough

Over the weekend, I was bit by the baking bug. It happens quite rarely, but when it does…oh boy.

And of course I didn’t start off with something easy. On Sunday morning, I drank a cup of coffee for a burst of energy and then stepped right into my bread-makin’ shoes. (Note: I didn’t actually have any shoes on while I made bread. I did, however, bust out my trusty pink floral apron.)

Right off the bat, my husband had little faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. He’s more familiar than anyone with my work in the kitchen. But he had good reason to be weary of my bread’s success; I was making a mixed-grain bread that called for quite a bit of whole-wheat flour, which is notoriously more difficult to bake with than your standard all-purpose flour.

The husband went out for a mountain bike ride and I got to work mixing and kneading…and kneading…and kneading. Honestly, longest six minutes of my life.

And when my husband returned home, look at what I got to gloat about:

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He was quite impressed. Truthfully, it was too early to be genuinely impressed, as I hadn’t yet tasted it. Luckily, the first bite validated my ability as a baker; I baked one seriously delicious loaf of bread! I was telling my coworker about it, and in a surprised tone she asked, “You made your own bread? Like, with a bread machine?” Let me tell you how good it felt to tell her that I did all the dirty work by hand: it felt goooooooooooood.

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That same afternoon, I made these Oreo Cheesecake Cookies:

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I’m pretty sure this was the simplest cookie recipe I’ve ever used, and the cookies were to die for. I took them to a family get-together that evening, and within five minutes, they were gone. Every last one of them.

I recently posted a rant about my food looking nothing like the pictures in the recipes I find online, and what made me happiest about these cookies is that mine looked exactly like the pictures in the original recipe. FINALLY.

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Have you baked anything good lately?

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Ninjas and Gingahs

Christmas was quite good to me this year. My parents’ gifts to me and my husband were a Ninja Mega Complete Kitchen System and a set of embarrassingly nice steak knives. I’m not lying to you when I say I almost cried when my husband unwrapped the Ninja set. As soon as we returned home, we packed our old blender and its components into a box and threw it in the big trash can in the garage.   Good riddance.

I haven’t yet cooked anything that requires the use of the new steak knives, but my Ninja is almost the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. All of this is to say, you might expect it to make some appearances on the blog in the near future. I mean, the things that system can do!

For Christmas, I was tasked with preparing dessert. My father is a diabetic and a dialysis patient, so his diet is extremely limited. Since gingersnaps are among his favorite cookies, I chose a recipe from the DaVita dialysis website for some soft ginger cookies. Remember my recent post about my peppermint cheesecake cookies that tasted delicious but fell horribly flat? Well, I’m happy to report that I actually learned something from the experience. Here’s what I did differently with the ginger cookies:

  • Used butter softened at room temperature—not butter melted in the microwave.
  • Was ridiculously careful not to overmix the dough.
  • Chilled the dough in the fridge for several hours before baking it.

The cookies were so, so soft and didn’t fall flat at all! YAY!

Fresh out of the oven...

Fresh out of the oven…

Cooled, but not flat!

Cooled, but not flat!

Once they cooled, I transferred 28 cookies into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. After Christmas dinner, the five of us—my husband, my stepson, my parents, and myself—busted into the cookies as we played Aggravation. By the time the game was over, only four cookies remained. Five people, 24 cookies…you do the math.

Now, I will leave you with the Barf of the Week, courtesy of the above cookies:  Diarrhea Dough!

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

If only real diarrhea smelled this good.

Amateur Candy Cane Pounder: or, Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies

Although I love to bake, I don’t do it very often. One reason is that it’s usually time consuming, and the other is that it would soil my plan of maintaining a healthy body weight. I typically channel my inner baker only for birthdays and holidays. And—oh my—Christmas is just around the corner!

I hadn’t thought much about baking any Christmas goodies yet this year. But I’ve been watching the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, and…well, try watching that show without getting a deadly craving for baked goods. Yesterday I finally made a date with Google to find a yummy recipe.

In an ideal world, I would have baked a cake. I LOVE CAKE. But the husband doesn’t care for cake, and for some reason I decided to be a nice wife and bake something we’d both enjoy. (Santa, are you taking notes?)

I settled on some Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies. My husband has been buying enough candy canes to warrant purchasing stock in Ferrara Candy Company, and everyone in my house just loves cheesecake. Win!

After a trip to the store to pick up some missing ingredients, my stepson asked if he could help bake the cookies. Ten years old and still wants to help me bake cookies—heart, please don’t melt! Of course I took him up on the offer.

The recipe calls for peppermint baking chips, which—of course—I couldn’t find at the grocery store. Why is there always ONE stupid ingredient you can’t find? Well, I’m an improviser if nothing else, so I purchased a ginormous peppermint candy cane for making my own peppermint chips.

The kiddo and I prepped the ingredients and while he mixed the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and pudding mix, I readied the candy cane for smashing.

Shit just got real.

Shit just got real.

I’m here to tell you, the way to a ten-year-old boy’s heart is to give him a candy cane and a mallet.

Before I tasked my stepson with the smashing of the candy cane, I took the first whack to make sure it would work. I hit it far too hard and sent shards of peppermint flying in every direction. Oops.

I think I broke it.

I think I broke it.

I gave the mallet to my stepson and instructed him not to hit too hard, and he gladly went to work breaking up the candy cane into little shards. While he created our impromptu peppermint chips, I mixed the flour into the batter until it made a nice, buttery cookie dough.

Boys and their tools...even in the kitchen.

Boys and their tools…even in the kitchen.

After several minutes, the candy cane was completely smashed but most of the shards were still pretty large. When we tried to smash them into tinier bits, they flew outward and landed on the floor, which excited my puppy to no end. Finally, I told my stepson to stop because I was tired of intercepting the dog’s consumption of the peppermint. Only then did the little light bulb come on. AHA!

I scooped up the peppermint shards and tossed them into my mini food processor. Within seconds, we had perfectly tiny peppermint bits to fold into the dough. What did I ever do without my food processors?

Eat my dust.  No really, it's delicious.

Eat my dust. No really, it’s delicious.

The dough made 24 beautiful cookies. After an agonizingly long cool-down, I split one cookie into thirds and we all taste-tested it. Delicious!

Yum times infinity.

Yum times infinity.

The only thing that disappoints me is that in the pictures in the recipe, the cookies are nice and puffy and look perfect—yet my cookies fell very, VERY flat. They still taste glorious, but damn it, I want my cookies to stay puffy!

I found this thread on Chow about preventing cookies from falling flat and it looks like there are several reasons mine turned into pancakes. For instance, I softened my butter a bit in the microwave and the bottom of it (but not the whole stick) straight-up melted. Since I had the kiddo do most of the mixing while I was measuring ingredients, the batter might have been over-mixed. Lastly, in hindsight I realize I probably should have chilled the dough a bit longer before sticking it in the oven.

Still, the cookies taste amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make another batch next weekend and see if I can make them stay puffy.  😀

 

 

Dad’s Day

Yesterday I succeeded in helping my fiance’s son make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Today, I once again wore my baker’s hat so I could make my dad some of his own yummy treats.  My dad loves Heath candy bars and as luck would have it, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (damn it, there I am plugging it again!) contains a recipe for chocolate toffee bars.

I’d like to say things went off without a hitch, but I did have a knock-down, drag-out fight with the crust.  I had originally lined the pan with aluminum foil, but when I scraped the batter dough into the pan, the foil slid and turned every time I tried to spread any of the dough.  I ended up taking out the foil and chiseling away the dough that was clinging on for dear life.  Once I had all of the dough in the unlined pan, things went a little more smoothly.  I let it bake for 15 minutes and then sprinkled it with chocolate chips.

The recipe advised leaving the chocolate chips for two minutes and then spreading the chocolate over the entirety of the crust.  At two minutes, they looked like they’d hardly softened at all.  But as soon as the spatula touched the chips, they magically transformed into chocolate frosting that spread beautifully over the crust.

All that was left was the pièce de résistance:  the chocolate-covered toffee pieces.  My dad’s lucky these survived the 20-minute drive to his house!

When we cut into them for dessert after the AMAZING ribs my mom cooked, something miraculous happened:  they didn’t stick to the pan…AT ALL!  For me, this is huge.  Also, slightly off topic, but–tonight I learned how to turn on a grill!  (Making fun of me is not allowed.)  I also learned why and how wood chips are used in grilling.  Now I just need to actually cook something on a grill.  That will be a squealing moment for sure.

To wrap up this post, I’ll share with you my other feat of the day.  I made some spicy red bean and corn soup that calls for a cup of chopped carrots.  Following the advice of the video I watched after my last carrot-chopping attempt, I managed to chop a carrot somewhat decently.  I still need practice, as chopping three small carrots took me at least a good five minutes–but things are looking up!

First broil and 20-calorie cookies

In 26 years, I have never turned on the broiler in the oven.  Until now.

That first statement makes me feel silly–especially because I recently purchased a brand spanking new range–so I found a recipe for some broiled Dijon chicken.  The finished product had nice flavor, and it was edible, but it wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be.  The chicken came out, as Anne Burrell would say, “Duh-rye!”  Any dryer and I may as well have made chicken jerky for dinner.  All in all, this is what I learned about broiling chicken:  it’s just like baking chicken, but requires more work and poses a bigger risk of dryness.  When I discussed this with my mom, she suggested I use the broiler to make cheesy garlic bread or steak.  Lesson learned.

I also whipped up some mashed potatoes as a side dish.  With a wedding on the horizon, I’m choosing healthy alternatives whenever possible–so in this case, I mashed them with some low-sodium chicken broth, minced garlic, low fat sour cream, and pepper.  They were good, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t longing for some country gravy to spill all over them.

Speaking of healthy, I stumbled upon a recipe for 20-calorie cookies.  I typically pass on “healthy” dessert recipes because more often than not, they use Splenda (which I refuse to consume) or Stevia (which I’m too nervous to use).  But this one contained neither Splenda nor Stevia, so I gave it a try!  These banana-oatmeal cookies are flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with the option of adding butterscotch chips.  I didn’t have butterscotch chips on hand, but I did have some semisweet baking chocolate, so I shaved about 1/4 ounce into the batter.

I absolutely LOVE these cookies!  They’re no chocolate chip cookies, but they’ll do the trick for a dessert-craving lady who needs to fit into her wedding dress this summer.  Bonus:  they were so easy, I don’t think I could have screwed them up even if I tried.